Save the whales: A decade of action for Southern Residents
For the last 10 years, Raincoast has been using science, public education and the courts to try and protect Canada’s endangered population of salmon-eating killer whales. With their salmon stocks in decline and targeted by fisheries, and a noisy and polluted ocean, they face extinction under existing conditions. The good news is they can recover if these conditions are reversed.
10 years of legal action to protect Resident killer whales
In the fall of 2008, Raincoast and several other conservation groups, filed a lawsuit to protect Canada’s two populations of Resident killer whales. Represented by Ecojustice, the case was filed on the basis that Fisheries & Oceans Canada (DFO) is obligated to protect the critical habitat of threatened and endangered whales. A 16-year timeline detailing government failure and legal action by NGOs can be downloaded: SRKW recovery planning timeline (PDF). The series of legal actions ended with a win (supreme court and the court of appeal) for critical habitat protection, at least on paper. The details of the critical habitat lawsuit (PDF) are here.
Please support our petition to protect killer whales.
In 2016, Raincoast, again led by Ecojustice, filed a lawsuit to stop TransMountain’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea. The case was heard before the Federal Court of Appeal in October 2017. A decision will be released in 2018. To read more about this critical court case.
A recovery plan for Resident killer whales
In 2014, DFO released a Draft Action Plan (PDF) for Resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and other NGOs provided a critique of the draft action plan (PDF). Our primary criticisms were the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (Southern) versus threatened (Northern) whales, and the lack of actions needed on food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered Southern Resident killer whales.
In 2016, DFO released a second Draft Action Plan (PDF), with little difference from the first. Again with Ecojustice, we critiqued this plan and submitted our comments on the 2016 proposed Action Plan (PDF) in August 2016. A final Resident Killer Whale Action Plan (PDF) was released in 2017.
More salmon and less noise, disturbance, and pollution needed in the Salish Sea
Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW) need better living conditions if they are going to survive. This starts with an adequate availability of Chinook salmon, their primary food source. In 2012, the US and Canadian governments (through NOAA and DFO) began a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales. Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions of their Science Panel Expert Report (PDF) and submitted our comments (PDF) to NOAA and DFO. We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis (PDF) with leading scientists on this topic. One of the important findings from this analysis shows that more Chinook salmon and less disturbance from vessels can rebuild Southern Resident killer whale numbers.
Population Viability Analysis
Since 2015, Raincoast has conducted two Population Viability Analyses (PVAs) on the SRKWs. The first PVA (PDF) (2015) focused solely on the implications of Kinder Morgan’s proposed seven-fold increase in oil tanker traffic through the Salish Sea, which has implications for noise and disturbance, potential oil spills and potential ship strikes. It was submitted as expert testimony in the National Energy Board’s hearing reviewing the TransMountain proposed pipeline and oil tanker project. The second PVA was published in 2017 in one of Nature’s journal’s Scientific Reports; it addresses primary cumulative threats.
Both PVAs were conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries. The expertise included killer whale behaviour, ecology, bioacoustics, and population biology. A PVA can be a powerful analysis that evaluates and ranks threats to wildlife populations and assesses the likely effectiveness of recovery options. The PVAs assessed the viability of Southern Residents in light of their cumulative disturbances and threats, including salmon abundance, increased ocean noise and disturbance from vessel traffic, climate change, contaminants and oil spills.
The Southern Resident population has experienced almost no population growth over the past four decades and has declined in the last two decades. Our analysis shows that existing conditions, and future conditions that further degrade habitat with more noise, less salmon, climate change or oil spills, lead to probable extinction with 100 years. Conversely, reducing vessel traffic (small and large boat noise and disturbance) and increasing Chinook abundance increases their likelihood of long-term survival.
Acoustic disturbance from vessel traffic
This expert testimony/report describes the importance of sound to killer whales and the concern for even more noise in their critical habitat. Southern resident killer whales produce and listen to sounds in order to establish and maintain critical life functions: to navigate, find and select mates, maintain their social network, and locate and capture prey (especially Chinook salmon). The existing level of noise has already degraded critical habitat and studies suggest it has reduced the feeding efficiency of these whales.
Download: RCF – SRKW acoustics-NEB (PDF)
Action Plan for recovery of SRKWs
In 2014 and 2016, DFO released Draft Actions Plans [(2014 PDF) and (2016 PDF)] for resident killer whales in British Columbia. Raincoast felt the document was weak and lacked action. With Ecojustice, Raincoast and a group of NGOs provided a critique of this Action Plan. Our primary criticisms are the lack of separate actions plans for endangered (southern) versus threatened (northern) whales, and the lack of actions needed on food supply, physical and acoustic disturbance and pollutant exposure for endangered southern resident killer whales.
Download: Comments on 2016 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for resident killer whales.
Download: Comments on the 2014 Draft Action Plan (PDF) for resident killer whales.
The role of salmon fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whales
In 2012, the US (NOAA) and Canadian (DFO) governments produced an Expert Panel Report (PDF) from a series of workshops examining the effect of salmon fisheries on southern resident killer whales. Raincoast did not agree with some of the conclusions in this report and submitted comments to NOAA and DFO. We then conducted our own Population Viability Analysis.
Misty MacDuffee explains why Southern Resident killer whales are threatened by industrialization of the Salish Sea
Misty MacDuffee joined Adam Stirling on CFAX 1070 to discuss the plight of the Southern Resident killer whales. Adam Stirling raises questions regarding the growing threat of oil tankers and shipping traffic…
Misty MacDuffee explains the lethal consequences of oil spills, tanker traffic and pipelines
Hear Misty MacDuffee on CFAX 1070 with Pamela McCall discussing oil spill risks to marine mammal conservation including Southern Resident killer whales…
Death of L95 and the lives of Southern Resident killer whales
Misty MacDuffee speaks with Roundhouse Radio about the life and death of Southern Resident killer whales…
Chinook salmon and its importance to Southern Resident killer whales
Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with Roundhouse Radio about the importance of Chinook (Spring) salmon to the survival of Southern Resident killer whales.
Kinder Morgan tankers threaten Salish Sea
On the 23rd Anniversary of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, CFAX interviews Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee about the lessons learned and the consideration for the Salish Sea as Kinder Morgan rapidly expands tanker traffic. Source file: CFAX March 2012 (MP3)
Exxon Valdez 23rd Anniversary: Lessons Learned
Raincoast biologist Misty MacDuffee speaks with CBC about lessons we have learned…
Latest News: Southern Resident killer whales
A killer whale emergency
We are requesting an emergency order under Canada’s Species at Risk Act. Southern Resident killer whales were recognized as endangered in 2002. Despite this, the Federal Government has taken no action to date to reduce the threats to these whales…
Critical situation for Southern Resident killer whales provokes call for urgent action
Only 76 Southern Resident killer whales remain. This is a critical situation. Today, represented by Ecojustice, and in collaboration with other science and environmental organizations, we are calling on the Canadian government to take immediate action to protect these whales…
Emergency order requested for Southern Resident killer whales: time is running out
Raincoast and its partners, represented by Ecojustice, are calling on federal cabinet ministers LeBlanc and McKenna to recommend cabinet issue an emergency order under Canada’s Species at Risk Act…
Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with CFAX about endangered killer whales
Raincoast’s Misty MacDuffee speaks with CFAX’s Adam Stirling about Southern Resident killer whales and Raincoast’s new study that examines their future…
New research indicates increasing Chinook salmon abundance and reducing disturbance is essential for Southern Resident killer whale recovery
Our new study shows a 25% chance that these iconic whales could be lost within the next 100 years. With appropriate and resolute actions, however, this risk of extinction could be significantly reduced…
Research: Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans
The endangered Southern Resident killer whales (SRKWs) that inhabit the Pacific Coast of Canada and the United States are balancing on a knife-edge. New research conducted by an international team of renowned scientists representing academic and conservation organizations in three countries…
Action for killer whales cannot be delayed
The Salish Sea’s Southern Resident killer whale population is one of the most critically endangered populations of marine mammals in Canada and the U.S. Both countries list this transboundary population as endangered, citing three primary risk factors…
Killer Whales versus Kinder Morgan
Raincoast and Living Oceans Society are in court this week, represented by our lawyers at Ecojustice, to challenge the Kinder Morgan pipeline and defend BC’s endangered Southern Resident killer whales…
Letter: Kinder Morgan intervenors demand answers from NEB about salmon protection
Raincoast and Living Oceans detailed concerns over the use of spawning deterrents in important Chinook salmon spawning area in this letter to the National Energy Board…
Alaskans close fisheries to protect BC Chinook salmon, while Canada fishes on
There are just as many warning signs that Chinook (spring) salmon in British Columbia are also returning in poor numbers. So why does Canada take a much greater risk with its salmon fisheries than Alaska? Fisheries on the Nass, Skeena and Fraser Rivers…
Killer whales v. Kinder Morgan in court
NEB fails to Protect Salmon Habitat
Immediate action essential for Southern Resident killer whales
Environmental groups launch court challenge over NEB’s Kinder Morgan report
National Energy Board fails killer whales
Naval Gazing: Military must address activities in Killer whale critical habitat
Feds sued over failure to protect killer whales